THE UK will not be safe from new and dangerous Covid variants until there is high vaccine coverage, global health leaders have warned.
Officials at the World Health Organization (WHO) said that ultimately, jabs are the way out of the pandemic, but most of the world is lacking doses.
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Dr Michael Ryan, WHO's emergencies chief, told a news conference: “At the end of the day high levels of vaccination coverage are the way out of the pandemic.
“And right now, it’s not 100 per cent clear on the data where the figure for vaccination coverage should be in order to fully affect transmission.
“But it's certainly north of 80 per cent coverage to be in a position where you could be significantly affecting the risk of an imported case potentially generating secondary caes or causing a cluster or an outbreak.
“So it does require high levels of vaccination, particularly in the context of more transmissible variants to be on the safe side.”
Dr Ryan was mainly speaking in the context of “zero Covid” nations – such as Australia and New Zealand.
He said countries which have managed to keep coronavirus out have very few people with immunity against the virus, and therefore have “very susceptible populations” that urgently need jabs.
New variants threaten all nations
But vaccination coverage will need to be high globally in the face of new variants.
New variants pop up as a result of high circulation.
And as the virus evolves, it will become better at dodging immunity from the current vaccines, putting even the highly-vaccinated UK at risk.
The UK is currently in the grip of a new Covid variant from India, which the WHO recently named “Delta”.
Despite having 77 per cent of Brits jabbed with at least one dose, Delta is picking up pace and Covid cases are clearly rising.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHOs technical lead on COVID-19, noted the Delta variant is spreading in more than 60 countries.
It is more transmissible than the Alpha (Kent) variant, she confirmed.
And Dr Van Kerkhove cited worrying situations whereby there was a variant of increased transmissibility with increased social mixing as restrictions are eased.
Leaders have repeated calls to share vaccine doses in order to stop new variants emerging and derailing jab programmes.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned “inequitable vaccines means a threat to all nations, not just those with the fewest vaccines”.
Sharing jabs "gives UK best shot at normality"
He told the briefing in Geneva: “The inequitable distribution of vaccines has allowed the virus to continue spreading, increasing the chances of variants emerging that renders vaccines less effective.
“Six months since the first Covid-19 vaccines were administered, high-income countries have administered almost 44 per cent of the world’s doses.
“Low-income countries have administered just 0.4 per cent.
“The most frustrating thing about this statistic is that it hasn’t changed in months… Sharing vaccines now is essentially for ending the acute phase of the pandemic.”
Last week Dr Jeremy Farrar, Director of Wellcome, called on the Prime Minister to show "historic leadership" and share vaccines.
He said: “The best way to protect the UK from future variants is through global vaccination.
"As long as the virus continues to circulate, it will continue to mutate. We’re seeing first-hand how quickly new variants can emerge and travel.
"We cannot rule out variants against which our vaccines and treatments no longer work."
Dr Farrar said the UK must share at least 20 per cent of available doses by August, paving the way for other nations.
"This is the best way to protect the UK, end the pandemic as quickly as possible and save the greatest number of lives", he said.
"It’s our best shot of life returning to normal.”
It comes amid decision-making over whether children should get vaccines in the UK.
Last month the director of the Oxford Vaccine Group said it is “morally wrong” to offer jabs to kids when poorer nations are so far behind in their campaigns.
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